Every year since our founding in 2015, we have recognized Wisconsin’s most influential Black and Latino leaders, and we were very proud in 2020 to also begin to recognize Indigenous and Asian American leaders. These lists have become the most anticipated thing we do. Every year, I’ve intended these lists to highlight the beauty of the diversity across our state. I want kids here in Wisconsin to see role models of people who are succeeding, to know that it’s possible for people of color to achieve great things here.
This week we shine a statewide spotlight on the dedicated leaders of Wisconsin’s Hmong, Chinese-American, Japanese-American, Pacific Islander, South Asian, and other communities. These are richly diverse communities with roots that represent a massive geographic area. The people we highlight this week are elected leaders, business leaders and community leaders, doing difficult, important work, often in the face of discrimination and literally generations of oppression.
We are also aware that this list, like every other, is not comprehensive. There are, without a doubt, more than 35 influential Asian American leaders doing good work in Wisconsin. We hope you will let us know about people in your community who we can include on future lists. For now, though, we just want to introduce you to a few of the people doing the work, often behind the scenes and without the accolades, across Wisconsin.
You might know a few of these names, but there’s a good chance that most of them will be new to you. I urge you to get to know them. Reach out to those living and working in your communities. Learn from them, network, create partnerships. And spread the word — let others in your network know that we have people of all ethnicities living and working across Wisconsin to make this state a good and prosperous place for all.
Henry Sanders, Jr
CEO, 365 Media Foundation
This is the first of a five-part series.
Ae (Alex) Hanesakda is founder and owner of SapSap, a Lao-inspired restaurant in Mount Pleasant, near Racine. Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, Hanesakda started a pop-up restaurant in a rented kitchen, which quickly grew into a full-fledged endeavor. SapSap, which means “delicious, delicious,” started an initiative in 2021 called PengPeng – peng means “to gently care for” – to feed hungry people and veterans. In 2021, the restaurant distributed over $10,000 worth of hot meals to those in need.
E Her Vang is managing director of the Network for School Improvement at City Year Milwaukee. In that role, she leads City Year’s efforts to establish and facilitate a network of schools that will utilize continuous improvement practices to improve the on-track rates for eighth-grade students at local sites. Prior to joining City Year Milwaukee in 2019, she worked in community health with the Milwaukee Consortium for Hmong Health and Independent Care Health Plan. She is vice president of the board of Our Scholarship and served two years on the committee for Hmong Young Professionals, among many other volunteer responsibilities. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from UW-Madison and a master’s degree in public health from UW-Milwaukee.
Yogesh Chawla represents Madison’s near-east side on the Dane County Board of Supervisors, a position to which he was first elected in 2018. Representing one of the most progressive districts in the state, he sits on the Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission Executive Committee, the Election Security Review Committee, the Environment, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and the Land Conservation Committee. Professionally, he is director of the software and data engineering program at SEARCH, the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics. He holds a degree in computer science from Binghamton University.
MaiKou Heu is principal of Johnston Elementary School in Appleton. She and her family migrated to the United States when she was 2 years old and made Appleton their home shortly after arriving in the United States. Her first hand experiences as a dual-language learner, at a time when the school system didn’t have the knowledge and experience to support those learning English, lead to her passion for becoming an educator. MaiKou graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a Bachelor Degree in Education and Human Services and a minor in Criminal Justice. She also earned her Master Degree in School Counseling from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and a Master Degree in Administration, Curriculum Development, and Special Education/Pupil Services from National-Louis University. MaiKou has had extensive experience working outside of the public education system providing individual and family counseling services, youth development, career development as well as teaching counseling-related graduate courses. In the fall of 2005, MaiKou begin her service in the Appleton Area School District as a School Counselor at Highlands Elementary. MaiKou has also served the District as the Dean of Students at Lincoln Elementary, Summer School Coordinator at Foster Elementary, Associate Principal of Huntley Elementary, and AASD School Counseling Program Support. MaiKou was named Principal of Johnston Elementary School beginning with the 2018-2019 school year.
David Lee is the Chief Executive Officer at Imagine MKE, where he works to harness the power of our region’s arts community and culture creators. David is a nationally and locally recognized leader, including “Notable Minority Executives” from The Milwaukee BizTimes, and brings nearly 20 years of experience in non-profit government relations, advocacy, and legislative affairs. He previously worked as founding executive director of Feeding Wisconsin after several years working at Feeding America. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Ex Fabula and Outpost Natural Foods.
Dr. Soyeon Shim assumed her current position as the Dean of the School of Human Ecology (SoHE) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2012. She has led SoHE’s All Ways Forward campaign and exceeded its campaign goal by 150% by raising $72 million, including 13 endowed chairs and professorships, a deanship, and 10 new graduate fellowship endowments. Dr. Shim’s scholarly research focuses on consumer decision-making and has won competitive grants totaling more than $1.5 million from federal agencies and private foundations. Dr. Shim has received numerous teaching, research, development, and leadership awards, both at the university and state/national level. She has authored or co-authored over 120 scholarly articles in refereed journals. Born and raised in Seoul, Dr. Shim obtained two degrees (B.S. ‘81 and M.S. ’83) from the College of Human Ecology at Yonsei University, followed by a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1986. After a short stint as an assistant professor at Colorado State University, she was recruited to the University of Arizona, where she spent 22 years. In her previous role as the director of the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences at the UA, she led a $25 million capital campaign to build a new facility, McClelland Park. She also raised more than $30 million to create an endowment fund and name the School in honor of John and Doris Norton, and established several named centers and institutes in partnership with private sectors and individual donors.
Joshua Kaul is Attorney General for the State of Wisconsin, a position he was elected to in 2018, when he defeated incumbent Brad Schimel. He is the son of Indian immigrant Raj Kaul and former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager. Raised in Oshkosh and Fond du Lac, he graduated from Yale and went on to Stanford Law School. Kaul clerked for Michael Boudin in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. From 2007 through 2010, he worked for the law firm Jenner & Block, and worked as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Baltimore through 2014. In 2014, Kaul moved back to Wisconsin and joined the law firm Perkins Coie’s Madison office.
Part 2 coming tomorrow!